A Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation 2016 rendering of a how part of the I-94 East-West corridor would look as it passed through the Stadium Interchange next to Miller Park.
A Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation 2016 rendering of a how part of the I-94 East-West corridor would look as it passed through the Stadium Interchange next to Miller Park.

GOP refused to fund reconstruction of the East-West corridor in 2017.

Nearly three years after an aborted attempt to rebuild a busy Interstate 94 corridor in Milwaukee, Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday he will seek federal approval to resume the project. 

Evers announced plans to reconstruct an East-West corridor of I-94 from 70th St. to 16th St. between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges. In a news release, Evers referred to the stretch of road as “one of the most congested and dangerous roads in the state” and said a major makeover is necessary to improve safety. 

“We know that deferring road maintenance could cost us more down the road and put safety at risk, so getting to work on this project is good common sense,” the governor said in the release. 

Light midday traffic on the I-94 East-West corridor, looking west with Miller Park to the south. This stretch becomes congested with commuters during morning and afternoon rush hours. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Evers said the project would create between 6,000 and 10,000 jobs, and in addition to improving travel would help the economy by moving products through the southeastern part of the state more efficiently. 

The state received federal approval in 2016 to rebuild the 3.5-mile stretch of the interstate at a cost of $1 billion. But in October 2017 former Republican Gov. Scott Walker brought the project to a halt after he and Republican lawmakers could not agree on how to pay for it. Some GOP legislators were willing to support a higher gas tax to fund the project, but Walker preferred to borrow or delay projects instead. Federal approval was rescinded and that part of the process will start over again under Evers. 

Since Evers took office, he and the Republican-led state Legislature have raised title and registration fees on vehicles to help pay for road projects, but a lack of funding for state roads remains an issue of contention. The reticence of the Walker administration to pay for roads was a major issue during the 2018 election in which Evers ousted Walker as governor.

Corridor project cost estimates at that time were almost $1 billion, and more current costs were not available Wednesday. Evers did not say when he hopes to receive federal approval for the project or when that work would begin. 

State Department of Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson said the corridor has a crash rate 2 ½ times higher than similar state highways. When the road was built more than 60 years ago, it was intended for much less traffic. 

Simply repaving the corridor is not a viable option to reduce congestion and improve safety, Thompson said. 

The corridor section of I-94 is challenging to rebuild to current safety standards because historic gravesites in the Story Hill neighborhood limit options to expand the road. A previous plan to build a double-decker highway as part of reconstruction is not a preferred option, Thompson said.